L-3 Communication (New York) manufactures secure communications and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems for government agencies like the U.S. departments of Defense and Homeland Security. Because of the specialized nature its business, the company's L-3 Communication West facility in Salt Lake City creates up to two dozen new products each year. This, in turn, can cause production headaches because of communication problems between manufacturing engineers and suppliers, design engineers and end users in the field.

According to L-3 Communication West vice president of Operations, Larry Dietzler, designer engineers would create a new piece of equipment and put it "over the wall" to the company's 200,000-square-foot production floor. If they didn't hear anything back, they would assume everything was OK. However, more often than not, there would be difficulties in a design's manufacturability, and production would send a set of marked-up paper drawings "back over the wall" to engineering. The two departments communicated in this manner, not just because they were physically separated, but because design work is all done in CAD, while production worked directly with paper drawings.

To smooth out the process, L-3 Communication implemented 3-D XVL technology from Lattice3D (Los Altos, CA) to compress the design department's Solid Edge CAD models and make them easy to send via computer to the shop floor. L-3 Communication also installed Lattice3D's animation and viewing tools, which make it easy for manufacturing engineers to review the design department's work before they begin building new products.

Although the manufacturing side had no previous CAD experience, the software and animation tools have resulted in a 20 percent reduction in rework. "The engineering workload is reduced because there are not as many...changes coming to them from manufacturing," Dietzler says. "On the other side, manufacturing is now giving valuable input into the design process." In essence, the technology removed the wall that had previously separated the two departments.

The system has also improved communications with suppliers. For example, instruction and warning labels on the back of L-3 Communication's electronic devices cannot be covered up by racks and housings. Therefore, firms that have been subcontracted to provide these components need to know exactly where the labels are located on dozens of parts.

By sending suppliers a download of Lattice3D's viewer software, the details of the products' various engineering models, right down to the stickers, can be conveyed en masse.

Similarly, compressed XVL models can be linked to information in spreadsheets or databases containing price information per part, or parts required for a particular assembly, further enhancing communications throughout the supply chain.

"When going out to a supplier, they can easily see the parts list and assembly details and can create cost estimates quickly" says Dietzler.

The technology has even been used to help military customers perform repairs in the field, using animated explosion diagrams to illustrate how assemblies have been put together. Because files have been compressed, they are easy to communicate via L-3 Communication's customers' networks and downloaded onto laptop computers or Web pages for future reference.

"The users themselves, without technicians, are now repairing their own systems," says Dietzler. Having better information available remotely saves time, money and perhaps lives, for field personnel. "What Lattice3D has done for us in a comparatively short period of time has really been more than I expected. XVL has been extremely helpful throughout our entire division," Dietzler says.

For more information on 3D modeling software, call 720-330-3197 or visit www.lattice3d.com